There have been 178 fires so far this summer in Alaska, and 58 of those are currently burning in the Southwest Region. While most of the fires are remote, a few are threatening communities on the Kuskokwim River and the proposed Donlin Gold mine site.
The Donlin Gold mine had to evacuate most of the 30 employees at its mine site this weekend after lightning ignited the Smith Creek Fire.
"At this point we’re working in communication with the smokejumpers, and continue to monitor the situation and foresee regular operations at the site resume once it’s deemed safe," said Kristina Woolston, the Donlin spokesperson. She said that the evacuation was precautionary, and that "a core group" of employees stayed behind to help out the firefighting crew.
The Smith Creek Fire is one of many sparked by lightning strikes during July thunderstorms in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta.
Three fires are burning within three miles of Red Devil, a village about 30 miles upriver from the Donlin mine site: the McCally Creek Fire, the Barometer Mountain Fire, and the Barometer Foothills Fire. The Fuller Creek Fire is about 10 miles away.
Rebecca Wilmarth lives in Red Devil.
"The wind is blowing downriver, so it’s not blowing straight at the village, just blowing down. But if the wind was to change it would probably become a more imminent threat," Wilmarth said.
Wildland firefighting crews are camping at the runway, but Wilmarth says that Red Devil hasn’t been ordered to evacuate yet.
There has been a lot of hot, dry weather and little rain in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. A heat wave earlier this month shot up temperatures across Alaska, mixing a perfect cocktail for wildfire conditions.
"It hasn’t really rained much since the beginning and middle of June. Everything is completely dry," Wilmarth said.
Wilmarth says that this fire season isn’t the worse she’s seen so far, but this summer is the hottest that she remembers.